- The 2016 season ended prematurely for Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker, who exited a Sept. 4 start after taking a line drive to the head and didn’t pitch again. The damage from that liner, which came off Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager’s bat at 105 mph, forced Shoemaker to undergo surgery to repair a small skull fracture and stop the bleeding on his brain. Fortunately, Shoemaker hasn’t felt any ill effects this offseason, he told Jason Beck of MLB.com. “The nice thing is mentally, I think I’m in a good state where I don’t think about it,” Shoemaker said. “It’s like it’s just something that happened. I’m thankful the recovery has been great, able to be back and ready to go.” To help guard against another potentially disastrous injury in the future, Shoemaker is considering wearing protective headgear in 2017. “I know a lot of stuff is being developed. For me, everybody cares about how they look a little bit, but I don’t really care how the look is as much as the feel and the comfort,” he stated. “Like, when I’m pitching, I don’t want to think about it. So if that can be achieved with something, if something works, I’m willing to try it.”
JAN. 13: The Angels have avoided arb with right fielder Kole Calhoun and right-handers Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, reports Heyman (all Twitter links). Calhoun will earn a $6.35MM salary in his second trip through arbitration as a Super Two player, while Richards will earn $6.85MM and Shoemaker will receive $3.325MM.
That’s a slight bump over the $5.3MM that MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz projected. Though Espinosa, 29, turned in a below-average overall offensive season last year, slashing .209/.306/.378, he did pop 24 home runs over his 601 plate appearances. That helped to drive a solid raise over Espinosa’s $2.875MM salary from 2016.
As he entered his final season of arb eligibility, Espinosa was dealt to the Halos from the Nationals — the only organization for which he has previously played. While it’s a fairly hefty salary for a player with his strikeout tallies, Espinosa is also regarded as a top-quality defender. That doesn’t pay in the arbitration process, but helps justify his earnings for the season to come.
The Angels announced that first baseman Ji-Man Choi has rejected an outright assignment in favor free agency. The 25-year-old was designated for assignment back in late December when the Halos signed Ben Revere to a one-year deal.
Choi, who will turn 26 in May, was a Rule 5 pick out of the Orioles organization in 2015 (although he’d signed a minors deal in Baltimore just prior to being selected). The Angels designated him for assignment last May and retained him by outrighting him to Triple-A. Choi eventually made his way back to the big league roster but struggled in his first exposure to Major League pitching, hitting just .170/.271/.339 with five homers in 129 plate appearances.
While those numbers are unsightly, Choi did walk at a solid 12.4 percent clip in the Majors against a not-unreasonable 20.9 percent strikeout rate and a solid .170 isolated power mark. He also comes with a nice track record in Triple-A, where he’s slashed .304/.399/.446 with 13 homers in 627 plate appearances. Certainly, he’s not entering any sort of favorable market for first basemen and corner outfielders (he does have 349 minor league innings in left field as well), but his respectable minor league track record and somewhat encouraging K/BB numbers in the Majors should allow him to latch on elsewhere as a depth option.
The Angels have at least had internal discussions regarding the possibility of pursuing free-agent catcher Matt Wieters, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. Whether the team will emerge as a serious bidder remains to be seen, however.
As things stand, the Halos would open the year with Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez atop their catching depth chart. Maldonado was acquired in a swap earlier this winter that sent fellow backstop Jett Bandy to the Brewers. Both of those players have historically served in part-time roles; neither has reached 300 plate appearances or ended a single campaign with league-average offensive production.
Wieters, meanwhile, has seen much heavier usage over his career with the Orioles. And as a switch hitter who traditionally fares much better against right-handed pitching, he’d pair rather easily with either of the existing players. Though he missed significant time in 2014 and 2015, and ultimately required Tommy John surgery, he was able to return to post a full 2016 campaign in which he logged 117 games behind the plate.
Of course, it’s not clear whether Wieters is still quite the player that he once was. He has turned in several quality offensive seasons, but hit just .243/.302/.409 last year — though he did contribute a healthy tally of 17 home runs. And while Wieters has long been considered a sturdy defender, he doesn’t rate well at framing pitches.
It is certainly interesting to hear of the Angels’ interest. There hasn’t been much chatter surrounding Wieters, who has watched as several potential suitors pursued other routes to fill their needs behind the dish. But there are a few possible landing spots elsewhere; the Diamondbacks have some interest, as might the Nationals in the right circumstances.
- The Angels have re-signed lefty reliever Cody Ege to a minor league deal. They had previously non-tendered him even though he had far less than three years of service time and was very effective in 8 2/3 innings for them last season, although he struggled in three innings with the Marlins and posted a modest 4.50 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 5.5 BB/9 in 44 innings at Triple-A.
- First baseman/outfielder Ji-Man Choi has been outrighted to Triple-A by the Angels after clearing waivers, the team announced. He had been designated for assignment recently. Choi, 25, hit a robust .346/.434/.527 over 227 plate appearances at the highest level of the minors and earned his first trip to the majors in 2016. He put up a meager .170/.271/.339 slash there, however, over his 129 trips to the plate. The left-handed hitter could still compete for a bench spot in camp, particularly if Albert Pujols is slow to return from his offseason surgery.
To set the stage for the remainder of the offseason, we’ll take a look at the most pressing remaining needs of every team in baseball over the coming week or so, division by division. (Hat tip to MLBTR commenter mike156 for the idea.) We often discuss things through the lens of an organization’s trajectory; thus, a rebuilding team might “need” to move some salary, while a contender might “need” an expensive starter. But with camp in sight, every club is making final calls on who’ll compete for big league jobs in the season to come (while also pursuing broader opportunities), so the focus here is on specific positions on the MLB roster. Fortunately, the task of roster analysis is made much easier by the MLB depth charts available at RosterResource.com. Each team listed below is linked to its respective depth chart, so you can take a look for yourself.
- First Baseman/DH: The Rangers make obvious sense for a first base/DH addition after watching Mitch Moreland and Carlos Beltran depart via free agency. Texas can utilize Joey Gallo and/or Jurickson Profar in those roles, but neither has hit to expectations in the majors. The club has been tied frequently to Mike Napoli, but there are other options on the open market as well. Relatedly, the Rangers will need to decide what to do with both Gallo and Profar in the near term, as both appear to have uncertain futures in Texas.
- Starting Pitcher: Though the Rangers already slotted in Andrew Cashner after declining a club option over Derek Holland, the team also lost Colby Lewis from last year’s staff. He is among the veterans still available in free agency, presumably on short-term arrangements, and Texas could certainly stand to bolster the back of its rotation. At present. A.J. Griffin seems likely to take the fifth slot, though a few upper-level youngsters could also factor in. Texas would do well at least to enhance the overall depth here, at a minimum.
- Sorting out the bullpen: Texas has a variety of interesting arms available to take closing duties, with last year’s ninth-inning man Sam Dyson returning. But the club has been rumored to be dangling some of its righty arms in trade, and could conceivably deal from what is something of a surplus to improve elsewhere (or even just to bolster its prospect pool).
- Starter: Seattle’s first three rotation spots are set. Behind that group, though, the club is currently set to sort through Ariel Miranda, Nathan Karns, Chris Heston, Rob Whalen, Brad Mills, and Christian Bergman in camp. Adding another established arm isn’t perhaps an outright necessity, but it would go a long way to firming up the roster.
- First Base/Corner Outfield mix: Currently, the M’s project to utilize some sort of platoon involving youngster Dan Vogelbach (a lefty hitter) and Danny Valencia (a righty). But the latter could also factor into the outfield mix while also providing a reserve at third. Meanwhile, the corner outfield situation includes a whole variety of options, including lefty Seth Smith, who is said to be on the trade block. Adding a righty slugger from the still-stocked free-agent market while thinning the corner outfield herd could make good sense for Seattle.
- Utility Infielder: With Jean Segura locked in at shortstop and the durable Robinson Cano set to return at second, there’s not a huge need in the middle infield. But projected reserve Shawn O’Malley has never hit much in the upper minors or in his brief MLB time, so at least adding some camp competition would be worthwhile.
- Left-handed Reliever: Entering the winter, Houston was said to be looking for a southpaw to pair with Tony Sipp, who disappointed after returning via free agency last winter. Jerry Blevins, Boone Logan, J.P. Howell, and Travis Wood (who’d also represent some rotation depth) are among the open-market options. Houston could also continue exploring the trade market; the club is said to have checked in on Justin Wilson of the Tigers.
- Starter: Houston has a five-man rotation mix in place after already adding Charlie Morton early in the offseason, and possesses some quality young arms as well, but the team could certainly stand to improve its starting staff as a way of rounding out an aggressive winter. The club has been tied to pitchers such as Jose Quintana, Danny Duffy, and Yordano Ventura, while the free-agent market still includes Jason Hammel and a few bounceback options. Even if a larger strike doesn’t prove achievable, adding a minor-league free agent could make sense.
- Another bat? There are limits to the number of true needs for some organizations, and that’s particularly true of Houston, which has accounted for most of its roster holes and touts plenty of versatility on its roster. But the club has looked for ways to add yet more talent in a variety of ways, and reportedly stayed involved on Edwin Encarnacion right up to his eventual signing. It would rate as a surprise at this point, but the ’Stros could conceivably add a power bat at first base (bumping Yulieski Gurriel into the corner outfield mix) or acquire a center fielder (shifting George Springer back to a corner spot) if an opportunity arises.
- Closer: While Los Angeles has options for the ninth inning — Huston Street could re-take the reins if he can return to form, Cam Bedrosian has the arm for the job, and Andrew Bailey is back after spending time as the closer late last year — that doesn’t mean the organization should rest on its laurels. Several experienced late-inning arms remain available in free agency, potentially creating a solid value opportunity and adding what could be an open camp competition for the closer’s job.
- Left-handed Reliever: Jose Alvarez has turned in two solid campaigns as a lefty setup man, but he’s hardly an overwhelming pitcher. Adding another lefty — some possible options are noted above — might provide a nice boost to the late-inning mix while allowing the club to use Alvarez for matchups earlier in a game.
- Rotation Depth: Signing Jesse Chavez likely rounds out the Halos’ staff, but that doesn’t mean there’s adequate depth. That’s especially true given the health questions surrounding Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Shoemaker. While pitchers like Alex Meyer, Nate Smith, Chris Jones and perhaps Manny Banuelos and John Lamb provide upper-level depth, it wouldn’t hurt to plug in a veteran on a minor-league deal (or perhaps even aim higher, if a good value can be found on a pitcher such as Hammel).
- Center Fielder: The A’s currently project to utilize some combination of Brett Eibner and Jake Smolinski up the middle, making for one of the least promising center-field situations in baseball. At a minimum, adding a veteran, left-handed hitter (such as Michael Bourn) would allow the team to set up a platoon. There are also some bounceback players on the open market (including Austin Jackson and Desmond Jennings), and the A’s could still pursue a more impactful asset via trade.
- First Base: It came as something of a surprise when Oakland reached agreement on an arb deal with Yonder Alonso, who had seemed a non-tender candidate. But the club has still looked to improve at first, most notably chasing Encarnacion, despite also possessing some other internal possibilities. Stephen Vogt is one, though he could serve as the DH and still appear at times behind the dish; Mark Canha is back as a righty bat; and Ryon Healy may profile as a first bagger if he can’t handle the hot corner defensively. With so many sluggers still floating around in free agency, Oakland could add some thump while deepening its overall roster. As an alternative, the A’s could add a third baseman (Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe remain available) while bumping Healy into the first base/DH mix.
- Veteran Starter: While the A’s are said to be high on their rather expansive mix of young starters, the current staff is short on MLB experience outside of staff ace Sonny Gray, who will be looking to return to form in 2017. There’s not a need, strictly speaking, for innings, but Oakland has had success in the past with short-term starters, and a targeted strike could pay dividends — by improving the team’s near-term outlook, but also by adding depth to account for a hypothetical mid-season trade of Gray and reducing the need to press less-established arms into major-league service.
In the wake of Edwin Encarnacion’s signing, there are now a whole lot of power hitters who could be next in line to sign. That situation provides much of the impetus behind the latest notes column from Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. You’ll want to read the whole thing to get his full take on the market, but here are a few notable items of information:
- The Athletics’ entry into the chase for Encarnacion helped push the action that led to his signing, per Heyman. Oakland proposed two separate scenarios, he notes, one of which would’ve been a straight two-year, $50MM deal and the other of which would have tacked on a third-year option in exchange for an opt-out clause. Before those offers pushed the Indians to boost their own deal, Encarnacion had been fielding many less-desirable possible arrangements. Indeed, the Blue Jays were mostly engaged with their former star on one-year possibilities most recently, Heyman notes.
- With Encarnacion now off to Cleveland, the many remaining sluggers will be looking to land with a variety of other suitors. Heyman suggests that the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rangers are all “very likely” to add bats, while listing a number of other teams that could get involved as well. That includes the Rays, Giants, Phillies, White Sox, Angels, and Rockies, each of whom has at least some interest in the remaining market.
- Mark Trumbo is probably now the player with the highest earning capacity who has yet to sign, but his landing spot remains hard to peg. Beyond the Orioles and Rockies, Heyman says, “a couple more opportunities may have cropped up” of late.
- It seems unlikely that the Blue Jays will punt a pick to sign Jose Bautista (which they’d technically be doing, as they’d no longer be in line for the comp pick they stand to gain when he signs elsewhere), he adds, even if he’s now available on a one-year pact. Toronto does need to make some outfield additions, though, and Heyman writes that the club has kept tabs on free agents Michael Saunders and Brandon Moss, along with “many others.” The Orioles are also said to have interest in Saunders, as has been suggested previously, and Heyman suggests that the Phillies — who’d prefer to add a lefty bat — have some interest in Moss.
- Mike Napoli was said to be seeking a three-year deal earlier this winter, but this report now indicates that he’s seeking a two-year contract, which seems quite a bit more plausible. The Rangers are reportedly a “strong possibility” for Napoli, though Heyman notes the possibility of the ever-popular “mystery team” in Napoli’s market, suggesting that Napoli has at least one suitor that has yet to be linked to him publicly.
- While the Dodgers are willing to give up Jose De Leon in a trade that would net them Brian Dozier from the Twins, they’re not willing to include first base prospect Cody Bellinger or well-regarded right-handed pitching prospects Yadier Alvarez or Walker Buehler alongside De Leon. Heyman writes that some clubs feel the Dodgers are being “stingy” with their prospects and overvaluing their minor league talent, though as he points out, that approach worked to their benefit with regards to Corey Seager and Julio Urias (although none of the names listed are as well-regarded as that pair was).
- In addition to Jered Weaver, veteran right-handers Jake Peavy and Colby Lewis are on the Padres’ radar. Peavy would love the opportunity to return to San Diego, where he established himself as a star and won the 2007 National League Cy Young Award. I’ll point out that Lewis, too, has some connections to the Padres, as GM A.J. Preller was in the Rangers’ front office when Lewis returned from Japan and cemented himself as a Major League-caliber arm.
The Angels have officially agreed to a one-year, $4MM contract with free-agent outfielder Ben Revere, as ESPN.com’s Buster Olney first reported (Twitter links). There are also incentives in the deal based upon plate appearances that could boost its final value by up to $2.25MM, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag adds (Twitter links). Los Angeles has designated first baseman Ji-Man Choi for assignment to create roster space, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports on Twitter.
With Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun entrenched as everyday options in center and right, it seems likely that Revere will mostly share time with Cameron Maybin in left field. The Maybin-Revere pairing figures to represent a higher-grade version of last year’s left-field platoon; while they’ll cost a combined $13MM, both are youthful players who won’t come with any future obligations.
[RELATED: Updated Angels Depth Chart]
Of course, there’s a reason that the fleet-footed Revere was available for such a limited commitment. Though he has been a heavily utilized player for the better part of the last six seasons, and offers quite a lot of versatility, Revere is coming off of a 2016 season which was the worst of his career at the plate.
Revere came to the Nationals last winter after playing in over 150 games in each of the two prior seasons — over which he carried a solid .306/.333/.369 batting line. He also swiped a combined eighty bags and rated as one of the game’s most valuable overall baserunners.
But things simply never took in D.C. After an oblique injury slowed him at the start of the season, Revere ultimately hit just .217/.260/.300 over 375 plate appearances. Though he continued to display excellent contact ability (34:18 K/BB ratio), his BABIP plummeted by about a hundred points (to .234) and drug his average down with it. And while Revere did steal 14 bases, he delivered only average value on the bases.
Given the struggles, Revere’s projected $6.3MM arbitration salary proved too rich for the Nats, who non-tendered him. Now, he’ll join fellow former Nationals Danny Espinosa and Yunel Escobar (each of whom was acquired via trade) as important role players in Los Angeles.
For the Halos, Revere appears to represent a solid value that solidifies an excellent outfield and adds flexibility for skipper Mike Scioscia. If he can return to being even a marginal offensive presence, Revere figures to represent at least a strong fourth outfielder who won’t cost quite as much as many similar players. While he carries neutral platoon splits, the left-handed-hitting Revere represents a natural platoon mate for Maybin and is plenty capable of spelling Trout at times up the middle.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.